Tuesday, August 16, 2005

You Sleep Better When You Are Un-phenomenal!

To recharge my batteries a bit, I am going to step away from writing a political blog entry for today. I want, instead, to discuss the status of current popular culture. This is something that I bring up periodically, and those that know me, know that I have plenty of opinions on the subject. In particular I would like to focus on the special status that we give to celebrity in our culture. This is special status regardless of talent, ability, intelligence, creativity or any other redeeming quality that you can come up with.

This is particularly odd because you do not find this in any other country accept in the United States. Sure, in Britain there are tabloid newspapers filled with paparazzi articles in which celebrities are stalked and haunted by the press. There are “embarrassing” pictures of females actors topless in the south of France and men with guts that surely no celebrity should have. But in Europe, as with other places, that treatment is reserved for people who have actually achieved something. People like David Beckham, star midfielder for Real Madrid and captain of the England national team or the late Princess of Wales, Diana Spencer. Generally speaking, no one cares what these people think. They just want important details about their private lives. This is standard for people, who cannot separate the athletic feat from the person or the song from the musician.

But in the United States, it is taken to whole different level. Andy Warhol once said that everyone gets their 15 minutes of fame, and ever since it seems that Americans are intent on getting theirs. Just like freed slaves were promised forty acres and a mule, Americans now feel entitled to fame, like it will somehow make them special or, at the least, less worthless.

What is our fascination with celebrity? Why do we place so much stock in the magical powers of fame? If we are not, ourselves, seeking fame and fortune, we are desperately trying to find out how celebrities think and feel on any manner of issues. Unlike in Britain, we don’t want our celebrities to be publicly ridiculed or humiliated. Our celebrities are held up as the elite in society. It used to be that the elite were people who excelled at art, theater, music, business, politics or any number of other disciplines, but now the elite are those who are not most able but the best self-promoters.

We have celebrities of all kinds becoming active in politics when they have no clear understanding of the issues and are no more well informed on the issues than anyone else. Yet their opinion matters and yours does not. Politicians try to share the spotlight with celebrities whether it is John Kerry having Bruce Springsteen campaign with him or the President going mountain biking with Lance Armstrong. These celebrities have what the politicians want; appeal that transcends political ideology. I promised I wouldn’t go into politics, so I will end this line of thinking right here.

In our endless lust for fame and fortune, which we directly equate with being special and not necessarily being talented, our media has brought us reality TV, which Joel Stein says is neither real nor good TV. But, as Stein also points out, we don’t care. We love reality TV, can’t get enough of it. When it isn’t on, we fiend it like crack-whores. It started on cable with the Real World on MTV and slowly invaded every channel on TV including ESPN. Now nearly half of all television is reality based programming with everything from making beautiful women eat maggots on Fear Factor to glorifying plastic surgery and showing you how ugly you all really are on the Swan.

The joke is on you America! Hollywood has never held the same image of celebrity as the rest of the country. It is part of the reason so many famous people live in LA. When you see a celebrity in Los Angeles the only people who lose their minds are the paparazzi and then only because they need to get the shots on the web or on Entertainment Tonight so Middle America can get their famous people fix. I didn’t know one person in my seven years in L.A. who gave a damn about celebrities accept for people who worked in the industry. And then that was because people in Hollywood are so self-centered they believe the hype about themselves being the elite of America. Celebrities are so convinced that they are the elite that the campaign for politicians, they adopt causes to champion, or write memoirs about how hard their lives have been and how they are all really deep people despite the patently megalomania that Hollywood is replete with.

I say again, the joke is on you. Hollywood sees how desperate you all are for fame and fortune. Likewise they see that you do not equate this fame and fortune with creative ability of any kind. Let’s face it; most of you are talentless, at least not with any skills that would warrant celebrity. This is why they created reality television. Pretty girls are a dime a dozen in Hollywood and yet they keep flooding off the buses from Duluth, Davenport and Dallas in droves. Most of these beauties have half a brain in their skulls and even less talent. But they were prom queen back home. They dated the varsity Quarterback and all the nerds lusted for them. I’m not trying to be trite and sexist, the same is true for pretty boy guys who starred in Anything Goes their senior year in Danbury, Dorchester and Durham. For their fifteen minutes of fame, Hollywood makes them roll around in worms or eat buffalo testicles. The people see them back home on the idiot box and when these people slink back home with their tails between their legs and no Screen Actors Guild card in their pocket they are welcomed as conquering heroes, not abject failures.

Wake up people! There is no link between talent, fame or fortune and celebrity. Look at Paris Hilton. Her only talent is that her grandfather was a smart guy and made a load of money. Well, that and she is attractive, in the way that strippers are attractive. She has parlayed this into reality television fame and a modeling career. The sooner we realize that celebrity is as worthless as Paris Hilton is, the happier we will all be. We are all so desperate to be anything but what we are. It is a national psychosis. We need to learn that, as Mark (Peter Sarsgaard) says in Garden State, it is okay to be un-phenomenal, you sleep better.

Am I cruel? Nazareth said it best: “Love Hurts”.


Anonymous said...

Listen not to get all political, since you're trying to recharge your batts and all, but lets face it popular culture took a downward spiral when we elected the idot we have for president the first time and then all was lost when he got elected the second time. I can't think of which is a bigger waste of time listening to a celebirty pitch their current pet project (and I lust for hollywood gossip) or listening to our president at a press conference or god forbid speak to an international audience. Honestly who gives a shit anymore?

Freak Politics said...

While I agree that our President is an afront to everything that I hold dear, the slide in popular culture started way before him.

It was just that during the 90s there was other stuff to focus on to take our minds off of the sorry state of mainstream popular culture.

Also, there are many sources of really rewarding cultural enrichment, but it is becoming a rare commodity.

Eric the Papa said...

I read several foreign newspapers and find a similar obsession with celebrities many places. It's a form of "light" entertainment, that the celebrities work very hard to develop.
It strikes me as an enormous waste of time...but most pop culture is except for those who like it.
At least in sports, people are doing something interesting.
E the Papa

Anonymous said...

pedro - columns are, at least for people like me with ADD, tooooooo looooooong. just some constructive advice - you don't want to lose your readers by the 7-teenth paragraph. keep it shorter, and we'll finally have time to grab some happy hour beers. check out thesuperficial.com for examples of shorter columns (although, those are probably too short for the msgs you try to get across). but then again, what do i know, besides everything? ~R

anonymous #1 said...

OK OK WE GET IT! I think the point you make over and over is that we are lazy, american culture is lazy or becoming lazy and we as american's seem not to mind it. So what do we do about it? I think opening a discussion about how to change is better then just bitching about it?